Food Aggression and Shelter Dogs

Wayside Waifs sees a lot of dogs come into the shelter and these dogs come from a variety of different backgrounds—transfers from other shelters, strays who were running the streets, strays who were abandoned by their human companions, owner surrenders who are well taken care of and puppy mill survivors.  When all of these dogs come in, we assess their behavior to make sure we don’t see any signs of aggression.  One type of aggression we see in some dogs, regardless of their background, is food aggression.

Some of these dogs have been running the streets and are obviously starving.  Some have been well fed their entire lives and look as if they haven’t missed a meal in years.  Some are dogs who are very full of themselves…some seem shy and reserved until you try to the take the bowl of food away from them.  This form of aggression can be seen in all ages, breeds, sizes and shapes of dogs.

Luckily, this form of aggression we have learned to work with, but adopters need to be aware that they will need to continue to work with the dog once they get him or her home.  There are a variety of ways we work with animals in the shelter:

  • Free feeding- giving a dog full access to food.  We will serve a normal amount of wet food mixed with dry kibble.  We refill their bowl throughout the day.  (Caution needs to be taken with this as some dogs would literally eat themselves to death if given the opportunity). 
  • Flooding- with this we give the dog a normal amount of food in multiple dishes.  Every dish will contain a small amount of their food.  I like to use 8-10 bowls.
  • Trading up-here we work with the dog during feeding times.  We give them a mixture of wet and dry food.  While they are eating, we offer a higher value treat and only give the treat to the dog once they are out of food dish.
  • Nothing in Life is Free -this is where we offer something to the dog, food or treats but they have to give us something in return…sit, down, stay etc.
  • Hand feeding- with this, we feed the dog by hand.  This is usually combined with Nothing in Life is Free as we will have the dog sit before giving food.  

There are all things you can do in your home, too.   At home, feeding time for me involves getting all of my dogs to sit and wait while I put there food down.  They continue to look at me with pleading eyes until I tell them to go ahead.  I do this, even though none of my dogs have shown food aggression.  It’s just another excuse to work with them on their behavior. 

As animal shelters continue to evolve, so will the things we are able to work with and help solve.  Our goal will always be to find loving, forever homes for as many animals as possible…some just take a little more effort.  For me, these are the ones that mean the most.  Please remember, any aggression in dogs can be scary and dangerous and it is always a good idea to consult a professional dog trainer to help solve these issues. 

Written by Joe Hinkle
Manager of Behavior & Admissions at Wayside Waifs


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